I choose to use my tongue for good. I will use it only to edify and uplift and exhort and inspire. (At least – that’s my hope.)
It is not my place to judge. Nor is it my place to share confidences.
I have always found this value very hard to live. This is how I WANT to live. But when someone says something to me I find it hard to change the subject, hard not to respond to them. I don’t want to be rude.
I suppose that I have always felt (subconsciously) that directly confronting them in their gossip is confrontational – and very bad manners.
Who gossips with you will gossip of you
So someone might catch me off-guard and ask me a very direct question about someone else. Before I know it, I’ve answered them. I’m a whole lot better than I was. I have been working on it and I’m learning to deflect and to change the subject subtly.
Or someone might assume I share their view of the world and launch into a vitriolic attack on a group or person they assume we hold in mutual low regard. And then the subject changes before I have a chance to defend that person or group, and I’m left feeling like I’ve bathed in bacon fat. Briefly delicious but totally gross the moment you actually think about it … and very, very hard to clean.
So I’ve been giving a LOT of thought to how I would like to behave in future. I’m basing a whole lot of this on how I hope people would behave if someone tried to engage them in talk about me. (I imagine I’m way too boring for this to be a real concern, but I’m trying to empathise here …)
When someone comes to me in future to gossip, here’s my script:
“If someone asked me that about you, I don’t think you’d like me to answer. I’d like you to know with great certainty that your confidence is safe with me, and if I answer that question about so-and-so, you will never be able to trust me again. Your friendship is very important to me, and I don’t want to risk it on random words.
Besides, I can’t speak for them. I don’t know the circumstances of their life, or the moments, events, and choices that brought them to where they are now. I don’t know if, in their place, I’d have done better. I’ve done some pretty crazy stuff in my life, so I’m fairly sure that – given their challenges – I’d have made a huge mess of things.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a good friend like you to keep them on track when they start going off course. Thank you for understanding.”
When it comes to a particular group being judged, I’ll say something like,
“I don’t know what it’s like to be [shortsighted label]. But I do know what it’s like to be [insert label that applies to me]. I like me, but I’ve taken flack for what I am in the past. It wasn’t fun. I don’t want to be someone who makes someone else feel like that.
It’s not my place to comment on their life choices at all. They are no better or worse than I am. Even life choices that are specifically spelled out as sinful in the Bible are no worse than the specifically sinful choices I have made.
So I don’t want to talk about their situation. I don’t have enough information and I don’t think we can easily do this and still be kind.”
If I need advice on a situation, I will speak broadly, and only to someone I trust implicitly, who has earned the right to hear that story. There are many things that can be discussed besides people. Millions. An infinite amount.
I realise that this view might not be popular. I know some people will think I’m boring. Others may even feel judged because I’m not willing to engage with them in the delicious sin of gossip. So be it. I don’t want to lose friends. But I would rather lose a friend because I DIDN’T gossip and I WASN’T judgemental, than because I gossiped about or judged them.
I would hate that.
(And it’s not as if I haven’t done and said enough things in my life to earn some gossip and judgement. But I hope that people will be compassionate and sympathetic to me. They have a right to hope that about me, too.)